Ulster University wheel out stars for Cavan test at Breffni Park
THE winners in tomorrow night’s top of the table clash between Cavan and Ulster University could be through to the Dr McKenna Cup semi-finals with a game to spare.
Both sides won their opening fixtures in Section C impressively – Cavan by five points against Armagh in Crossmaglen and the students by 10 against Monaghan in Clones.
The bad news for ‘the Poly’ ahead of the Breffni Park fixture is that Niall McKeever, Frank Burns and Rory Beggan are all out injured.
The good news is that manager Barney McAleenan has a host of inter-county stars ready to take their places: Ryan McAnespie, Ronan McNamee, Paddy McBrearty, Martin Johnston, Ricky Johnston and Kevin Nolan are all expected to come in for their first starts of this campaign.
“It’s a big game for us but we’re using the McKenna Cup to develop a panel of players and try and get a settled side and try different permutations,” said McAleenan.
“We want to give boys game-time to get them ready for the Sigerson but if on the back of that we get a win we’ll be delighted.
“Cavan is a big challenge,” he added.
“They’re a good side and very well structured and I’m sure they want to win the McKenna Cup – they were beaten in the final last year.
“Their U21 group is now maturing and they’re moving forward on Sunday. It’ll be a big challenge for us to deal with their defensive system.”
Ulster University began 2016 in impressive fashion with that victory over reigning provincial champions Monaghan on their home turf. Derry’s Cailean O’Boyle and Mayo’s Evin Regan bagged the goals.
“We’re very happy with that win,” said McAleenan.
“We scored 2-16 and we were very happy that we didn’t panic when Monaghan came back to within a point in the second half. There’s still plenty of work to do in the sense of the boys getting to know each other’s play and getting a bit of cohesion.
“Different counties have different philosophies and we have players from a lot of counties so we’re trying to get them into our style of football and that only comes with training and playing games.
“We want to get them playing together and playing like a club side.
“We want to have a good tight group for the Sigerson and there’s no doubt that the boys are making a great effort and we want to have them ready for the 2nd of February (UU play the winners of the preliminary round tie between Cork IT and Garda College).
Meanwhile, Cavan could have full-forward Eugene Keating back in harness for tomorrow night’s game. The Kilmacud Croke’s forward opted out of inter-county football last year and manager Terry Hyland admitted after the win over Armagh last Sunday that he expected him to miss this season too.
But Keating has sprung a surprise, saying: “You miss it when you are away from it. It will be good to get back and give it a lash this year. It seems like I was away longer than a year.
“I did a gym session the other night. I don't think they'd let me stand around for too long. Hopefully I'll get a game or two anyway.”